Pepper Spray Them! Jamaicans Push for Legalization of Self-Defense Weapons

Sheri-Kae McLeod

pepper spray
Photo: Björn Hansson/Wikimedia

Since last week, Jamaicans at home and across the diaspora have increased their calls to the Jamaican government to do more to address gender-based violence on the island. These calls stem from the kidnapping of a 20-year-old Portmore resident, Khanice Jackson on Wednesday, March 24. 

The abduction and subsequent death of the young accounting clerk have sparked national outrage among Jamaicans, with several public figures like retired sprinter Usain Bolt, dancehall artists Shaggy and Sean Paul, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and several members of parliament, also expressing shock and sadness at the events surrounding Jackson’s death. 

Jackson is just one of hundreds of young Jamaican girls and women who have gone missing this year. The uptick in kidnappings has renewed calls for the Jamaican government to legalize self-defense weapons for women. 

But while the government struggles with curbing violence against women, many have decided they cannot wait on an elusive solution from their leaders.

“I not waiting for the government to tell me if it legal to protect myself from kidnappers and rapists, I making sure I can protect myself,” said a young woman residing in Red Hills, St. Andrew.

Some people in the diaspora have admitted to getting calls from female relatives and friends in Jamaica asking them to purchase and send pepper sprays to them, despite the importation ban on the island.

When sprayed into the eyes of an attacker, pepper spray can create severe pain, cause temporary blindness, and, in rare cases, be deadly.

 

Petition Getting Traction 

Currently, pepper sprays, tasers and mace are prohibited for use on the island. Jamaica’s Customs Act also bars the importation of these devices. But given the increase in acts of violence against women, some Jamaicans launched an online petition seeking the legalization of pepper spray. The petition, which was started on February 18, garnered 17,000 signatures after Jackson’s death.

The petition stated that pepper spray is “an invaluable self-defense [tool] to anyone,” noting that “it can be used on multiple attackers and could save its carrier’s life.”

CNW also understands that some women in Jamaica are resorting to creating their own homemade pepper spray from mixtures of pepper seeds or hot pepper sauce and water, placed in small spray containers, which they can carry on their person. 

The office of the Prime Minister states that it reviews petitions if they gather 15,000 signatures in 40 days.

Outrage!

Amid the outrage, opposition leader Attorney Mark Golding said he believes pepper spray is not illegal, having reviewed the Offensive Weapons (Prohibition) Act 2001. But Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck said Golding’s claims are inaccurate. 

Chuck said while there’s a need to legalize pepper spray there, the government “has to balance the opportunity for it to be used as a self-defense weapon against the risk that if it is widely available, it could get into the hand of criminals.” The minister said the government’s main concern is that if legalized, such weapons could be used by criminals to disarm potential victims. 

Prime Minister Holness, who visited Jackson’s family on March 27, has called on Jamaicans to publicly voice their outrage at the wave of the kidnappings and killings.

“The Jamaican people are rightly outraged, and that outrage should continue. Criminals shouldn’t feel they can commit acts and the country is not repulsed.

“It is in fact the lack of this kind of repulsion and outrage, which has emboldened criminals who are in our midst. We know them. In addition to the outrage, we need to think about what we can do as citizens, to make the space less favorable for criminals,” the prime minister said.

For its part, the Jamaica Constabulary Force has reminded residents they have changed the missing person protocol, making it possible to start investigations much sooner after a missing person report is made. Prior to 2020, residents who filed a missing person report had to wait 24 hours before investigations would start.

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